Abnormal electrical discharges in the brain cause seizures, which can manifest in various ways. Watching your cat have a seizure can be scary, but will be less so, if you know what to do. Our Just Cats Clinic team would like to help by providing information about seizures in cats, and tips on how you should react if your cat has a seizure.

Understanding terms relating to cat seizures

Common terms used when discussing cat seizures include:

  • Pre-ictal phase — The pre-ictal phase, also called an aura, is the period that precedes a seizure. Cats typically exhibit behavior changes that may include nervousness, vocalization, attention seeking, or hiding. This phase can last a few minutes to a few hours.
  • Post-ictal phase — The post-ictal phase is the period that follows a seizure, and is typically characterized by abnormal behavior that may include depression, sleepiness, pacing, and excessive eating or drinking. The post-ictal phase typically lasts about 24 to 48 hours in cats. 
  • Generalized seizures — Also known as grand mal seizures, generalized seizures are characterized by a loss of consciousness, uncontrolled limb paddling, loss of bowel and urinary control, and the head bending back over the spine. 
  • Focal seizures — Focal seizures only involve one body part, and may also be characterized by a behavioral change, such as tail chasing, biting at imaginary objects, uncharacteristic aggression, and gum chewing activity.
  • Absence seizures — Also known as petit mal seizures, these are minor seizures during which the cat seems unaware of their surroundings.
  • Status epilepticus — Status epilepticus refers to a continuous generalized seizure that lasts for longer than five minutes. Cats in status epilepticus require immediate emergency veterinary care.

Seizure causes in cats

Seizures in cats can be caused by many conditions, including:

  • Toxicity — Toxins, such as permethrin, diphenhydramine, ibuprofen, and acetaminophen, can cause seizures in cats.
  • Hypoglycemia — Low blood sugar can affect the nerve cells’ excitability and cause a seizure.
  • Brain tumor — Brain tumors, especially meningiomas, frequently cause seizures in cats older than 10 years of age. 
  • Brain damage — Brain trauma can result in seizures in cats.
  • Kidney and liver disease — The kidneys and liver are responsible for filtering toxins from the bloodstream. Toxins can accumulate and lead to a seizure in a cat affected by kidney or liver disease.
  • Viral infections — Viral infections commonly lead to seizures in young to middle-aged cats. The seizure may be preceded by mild, unspecific signs, such as fever, decreased appetite, cough, vomiting, diarrhea, and nasal or ocular discharge, that may appear up to three weeks prior to the seizure activity. The cat may be clinically normal by the time the first seizure is observed.
  • Idiopathic epilepsy — When no underlying cause can be determined, the condition is termed idiopathic epilepsy. Most cats affected by this condition start exhibiting seizure activity at 6 to 12 months of age.

Seizure diagnosis in cats

If your cat experiences a seizure, potential diagnostics include:

  • History — Our veterinary team will take a thorough history to learn details such as the number, length, and frequency of your cat’s seizures, their vaccination history, whether they are an indoor or outdoor cat, and if they show any other signs.
  • Physical examination — We will perform a physical examination, paying special attention to your cat’s neurologic responses.
  • Blood work — Our veterinary team will perform blood work to determine whether your cat’s seizure is because of kidney disease, liver disease, hypoglycemia, or an electrolyte imbalance.
  • Urinalysis — We may assess your cat’s urine to ensure an underlying health condition is not causing the seizure.
  • Cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) tap — We may assess your cat’s CSF, checking for infection and inflammation.
  • Imaging — In some cases, advanced imaging (i.e., computed tomography or magnetic resonance imaging) is required to determine the cause of your cat’s seizure.

Seizure treatment in cats

A single seizure that lasts a few minutes or less typically does not require immediate treatment; however, a veterinary assessment is warranted to rule out an underlying cause. If your cat is affected by idiopathic epilepsy, we will start treatment if they have more than one seizure a month, their seizure lasts for an extended duration, or they have multiple seizures in a short period. If your cat requires an anticonvulsant to manage their seizure activity, they typically require the medication for life.

Tips on how to respond if your cat has a seizure

If your cat has a seizure, your response should involve:

  • Staying calm, so you can care for your cat
  • Moving your cat away from furniture and stairways
  • Timing your cat’s seizure
  • Videotaping the seizure, if possible
  • Staying away from your cat’s mouth to avoid being bitten
  • Calling our veterinary team for advice on next steps once your cat’s seizure is over
  • Seeking immediate veterinary care if your cat’s seizure lasts longer than three minutes

Witnessing your cat have a seizure is frightening, but knowing how to respond will help you stay calm, so you can appropriately care for your pet. If your cat has a seizure, contact our American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA)-accredited Just Cats Clinic team, so we can determine the cause and devise an appropriate treatment plan.